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KZ Okpala’s 22 point, 14 rebound performance suggests a promising future with Miami Heat

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Somewhat of a roster afterthought up to now, Okpala may play a larger role later on as his skills develop

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Heat may have struck gold again in the second round of the NBA draft. Last night, January 17, KZ Okpala had a 22 point, 14 rebound, 5 assist night in Prescott Valley, AZ playing for the Sioux Falls Skyforce. While Okpala didn’t make any 3-pointers, he shot 4 of 8 from the free throw line, grabbed 5 boards on offense, had a steal, a block, with only a single turnover. A well-rounded effort from a 20-year-old prospect waiting for his opportunity to contribute.

Considering he’s not old enough to order a drink on South Beach, but is officially on the Heat roster, his situation is worth keeping an eye on. Just because he’s perfecting his craft until he’s ready, doesn’t mean he’s not being closely watched by the coaches and front office.

With Dion Waiters on the outs and Justise Winslow injured, the team’s current depth chart shakes out like this:

  • PG: Kendrick Nunn, Goran Dragic
  • SG: Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro
  • SF: Duncan Robinson, Derrick Jones Jr.
  • PF: Meyers Leonard, James Johnson
  • C: Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk

Reserves: Waiters, Winslow (until fully healthy), Chris Silva, Udonis Haslem, Okpala, Gabe Vincent (2-way), Kyle Alexander (2-way).

Besides Okpala, the recent signing of Silva to a standard contract adds to the Heat's possibilities down the road. For example, Silva solidifies the team's efficient shooting numbers.

Miami leads the NBA in true shooting percentage (TS%) at .586. They are first in 3P% (.378) and second in FG% around the rim (.699) among Eastern Conference teams. Since Silva has a TS% of .712 and FG% (0-3 feet) of .816, he fits right in as a threat at the basket.

If teams pack the paint to stop the Heat from attacking the rim, they could either draw shooting fouls in the restricted area or give their shooters more space at the 3-point line since defenders would collapse to prevent easy scores near the hoop.

The future might be closer than fans realize. With two 20-year old prospects in Herro and Okpala, and 23-year old veterans in Adebayo and Jones Jr., the Heat have these four promising under-25 years-of-age players who hopefully will continue to get better as the season wears on. And this growth is already bearing fruit as Adebayo is likely to become the team’s second All-Star next month.

The physical profile of Okpala at 6’8” tall, 7’2” wingspan, 37” vertical, 215 lb potentially gives Miami a versatile defender who can defend both man-to-man and in a zone defense. Just last summer he seemed like a long-term project last year when he faced experienced NBA professionals who took him to school.

Perhaps he’s learning his lesson, as he exhibited last night. Just as Miami’s second All-Star is already on roster, the Heat could have players already in place to make the leap forward as valuable contributors down the stretch.

But they need the reps to blossom. And who better than Butler to hold them accountable for the results. He just hates to lose, in anything.